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Scent Sleuth: Natural Fragrances—Creating Balance

By: Nancy C. Hayden
Posted: April 7, 2009

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Most companies tend to include the fragrance with the 5.0% allowable “other” materials on the label, which also allows for the achievement of some natural certifications, despite the presence of synthetic ingredients. Most ingredient listings, in fact, list the fragrance components simply as “fragrance.”

And if “natural” as a label claim isn’t confusing enough to consumers, the fragrance material itself tends to be somewhat difficult to categorize. Consider, many of the components of a naturally occurring flower or plant can be extracted, and those extraction methods can vary. So once there is an overarching agreement of what “natural” means in personal care labeling, what are the implications to the creation of the scent itself? Will the scrutiny reserved for the former shift to the latter? Not if common sense prevails and there is an honest evaluation of what actually best meets true consumer desire.

According to Ashley Wilberding, a perfumer at Mane who trained in France, fragrances that meet some of the more stringent definitions of natural are unlikely, because many require synthetic solvents.

Natural in Modern Perfumery

Naturals are, in fact, being used less and less in modern perfumery because modern chemistry has made it possible to duplicate the odoriferous portion of plant and flower molecules. When they are used, natural ingredients tend to be only a component of a blend, allowing the creation of beautiful new bases. These blends provide far more character and diffusion, and are simply more interesting. In addition, the use of natural fragrance materials has other intrinsic disadvantages—including prohibitive costs, dwindling supply, lack of solubility, increased allergen issues, quality inconsistencies from crop to crop, and resulting color changes.

“Modern perfumery is indeed a blend of the wonderful aromatics developed from naturals,” says Wilberding. “In fact, natural florals are so expensive that they would be prohibitive to use in any significant amount. Naturals also produce more allergens, since they have many trace materials that we have no control over.”